In India African-origin peddlers destroy their passports to evade deportation

Two of those arrested being escorted to court

After three years of chasing African drug peddlers, it was supposed to be a great victory for the police when they arrested nine of them last week. But now, it looks like the criminals may be the real winners after all. The Africans have either destroyed or hidden their passports and refuse to disclose their country of origin, leaving the cops no way to know where to deport them.

The African drug network has been notoriously difficult to tackle, and more often than not, the dealers manage to give cops the slip. But running from the police is not the only way the criminals have managed to hold on to the drug trade in Mumbai for so long.

The police combed 5 km of railway tracks to arrest the nine-member gang on July 28

Following the example of illegal immigrants across the world, the African drug pushers tear up their passport as soon as they arrive in India to avoid deportation. The interrogation of the recently arrested nine dealers indicates that they too might have done something similar. Officers from the Anti-Narcotics Cell (ANC) said the peddlers were refusing to disclose their nationality, and despite searching their homes, mobile phones and other belongings, the cops were yet to find any clues.

They won’t leave
The peddlers have even figured out that getting arrested can help them stay on longer in the country. An officer said that many of them try to get arrested on purpose, since they cannot be deported until the investigation and the court case ends. This could take several months or even years.

One such example is Kofi Jems Romalik, 30, who was among the nine arrested on the intervening night of July 27 and 28. He had already been arrested earlier for a 2012 narcotics case, but would never attend court proceedings. In 2017, a non-bailable warrant was issued against him. He has now spent six years in Mumbai since his last arrest.

Kofi Jems Romalik, had also been arrested in 2012, but was never deported

African peddlers have told the police that there is so much poverty in their countries that they keep getting arrested so they can stay in India. Another officer from the ANC said that only two peddlers have been deported to Nigeria since 2017. This, even though the police arrested 45 African dealers in the same period (29 in 2017 and 16 in 2018).

Not cooperating
Cops said the peddlers were refusing to cooperate and disclose their nationality. In this case, the police suspect the accused still have their passports, but have hidden it.

Apart from charges under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act and the Maharashtra Police Act, the police have now also added offences under the Passport Act, for illegal entry and concealing their citizenship.

Defence speak
Advocate Shekhar Bhandary, appearing for some of the accused, said, “They were remanded in police custody till August 6. I am not aware of their home country or their passports.”

The arrests
The ANC arrested the nine peddlers in the wee hours of Saturday, in one of the biggest operations against foreign drug peddlers after a recent attack on a cop. API Amar Marathe suffered a head injury after peddlers pelted stones at him last week during a raid. Marathe is still under treatment in hospital. The nine arrested are — Charles Ifini Ijia, 27; Okoro Jems Aja, 38; Mascells John Dino, 32; Samuel Baju Okeni, 30; Ken Kon Ishmel, 37; Kofi Jems Romalik, 30; Chikku Fry, 43; Nanna Harisans Agvu, 28; and Joku Humai Vachuku Pais, 32. While it’s clear they are of African origin, it’s not clear which country they hail from. The ANC seized 104 g of cocaine, worth R5.2 lakh, along with 9 g Mephedrone that is worth Rs 18,000. They also recovered two knives from the accused.

Rs 2K per day on chicken
ANC officers said the African peddlers refuse to eat anything but chicken and rice. As a result, the police are spending Rs 2,000 per day on meals for just nine accused.